There may be economic gloom everywhere you look, but a diverse programme of events for the coming year is enough to lift anyone’s spirits, writes Jim Gilchrist
A CONCERTO for fiddle and clarsach, a Weather Report celebration from Scotland’s premier jazz big band, transatlantic visits from folk diva Joan Baez and jazz bassist Kyle Eastwood, son of Clint, and the 130th anniversary of a strathspey and reel society are just a few of the diverse delights to come as 2012 builds up momentum – once, that is, the mammoth eclectic music extravaganza that is Celtic Connections rolls by, and despite the looming clouds of economic uncertainty.
Designated the Year of Creative Scotland, with the agency Creative Scotland recently announcing some £6.5 million of National lottery Funds to boost Scottish arts projects, the year kicks off with Glasgow’s 19th Celtic Connections festival (www.celticconnections.com) hosting a vast programme of events between 19 January and 5 February, from banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck and his reformed Flecktones band to Scottish folk supertrio Lau collaborating with jazz-rock bass legend Jack Bruce.
Celtic Connections also includes the premiere of Seavaigers, a concerto written by the composer Sally Beamish for the cutting-edge fiddle and harp duo of Chris Stout and Catriona McKay, which will be given a repeat performance at Edinburgh international Harp Festival (30 March-4 April, (http://www.harpfestival.co.uk).
At the more traditional end of the folk spectrum, March sees the emerging young singer Alistair Ogilvie release his debut album, Leaves Sae Green, on the Greentrax label, which is also planning, among other things, an album of material relating to Scots participation in the Spanish Civil War. Expect, too, a new album early in the year from Celtic troubadour Robin Williamson, while the American diva of political folk song, Joan Baez, plays her only Scottish gig at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on 29 February. (Another sole Scottish date from a visiting US singer will also be at the concert hall, where Nanci Griffith plays on 10 March). Other visiting Americana includes a June tour from the Appalachian roots band Furnace Mountain.
The Edinburgh Folk Club (www.edinburghfolkclub.co.uk) programme features the likes of The Outside Track (8 February), guitarist Duck Baker (29 February) and a visit from former Planxty star Andy Irvine on 25 April. Scottish-based Irish flautist Nuala Kennedy launches her 75-minute multi-media Suite of Scottish Industry on 30 March at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall, which also sees, in more traditional vein, Edinburgh Highland Reel and Strathspey Society celebrate its 130th anniversary on 31 March.
So far as grass-roots music-making is concerned, the feeling is that while Creative Scotland gives clear recognition to the importance of traditional arts, there remain issues over assistance for fundamental music-making and teaching activities and a continuing imbalance between resources for Gaelic-based and Lowland Scots-based music. Also grant assistance may not be announced until relatively late in the day, making it difficult for festival organisers to finalise their programmes.
An interesting development at the end of last year was the gathering of various traditional arts networks at the Scottish Storytelling centre in Edinburgh to focus on creating a “traditional arts hub” to promote their interests.
In the meantime, collaboration between two leading Gaelic and Scots traditional arts organisations, Fèis Rois and the Traditional Music and Song Association, will mark the Year of Creative Scotland with a project called Trad Trails, delivering some 500 concerts, ceilidhs and music sessions across the country.
Jazz organisers, too, have seen their plans dogged by uncertainty over funding until the last minute. However, the promoters Jazz Scotland (www.jazzscotland.com) report that, unlike last year, Creative Scotland funding for the Lagavulin Islay (14-16 Sept) and Lockerbie (28-30 Sept) and jazz festivals is already confirmed.
Much closer is next month’s Fife Jazz Festival (3-5 February) which sees Kyle Eastwood, bassist, composer and son of Hollywood star Clint Eastwood, headline with his band, while the indefatigable octogenarian saxophonist Joe Temperley leaves his baritone chair in New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to return to his native turf to play with the Fife Jazz Orchestra.
The Aberdeen Jazz Festival, running from 14-18 March, has Tim Garland and Joe Locke booked, with further programme announcements due later this month, while, following some tentative gigs last year, Shetland has its first jazz festival scheduled for 23-25 March featuring Brass Jaw, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and the Nova Scotia Jazz Band, among others.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s award-winning Jazz Bar (www.thejazzbar.co.uk), while also labouring under cuts in funding, brings in the new year with a gig from the powerful New York pianist David Berkman on 18 January, while fans of European jazz should welcome concerts at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall from Meadow (9 February), featuring Norwegian saxophonist and drummer Tore Brunborg, and Thomas Strønen with English pianist John Taylor, then, on 24 March, the acclaimed Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen’s ensemble, also including Brunborg.
The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (www.snjo.co.uk) kicks off a busy 2012 season in no uncertain manner in February, when it celebrates the music of the seminal jazz-rock fusion band Weather Report, with that band’s drummer Peter Erskine, as guest performer. May sees the SNJO return with guest trumpeter Randy Brecker, playing the music of his late brother, saxophonist Michael Brecker.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Jazz Federation (http://www.scottishjazzfederation.com|www.scottishjazzfederation.com|www.scottishjazzfederation.com}) will host Scotland’s first Jazz Education Conference later this year and has been funded by Creative Scotland to continue its development work with musicians, educators and promoters.
Finally, 1-11 August sees the 40th anniversary of what has become a major North-East cultural event, the Aberdeen International Youth Festival (www.aiyf.org) which, among other things, features a sizeable jazz programme and will be repeating its highly successful educational project, the Jazz Lab, aimed at aspiring players of 14 and over, and will also host the finals of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician competition.